It depends on your perspective. It might depend on your expression of gender.
Are you held down by a glass ceiling? You can see the leaders above you, but some invisible force keeps you from rising.
Are you standing on a glass floor? You earn more for the same work than others, and you are promoted for the same achievements, simply because of who you are.
A friend recently claimed to be a "self-made man." If anyone is self-made, he is. But, I'm wondering, would he say that his self-making would have been easier, harder or the same if he weren't a white man?
No Glass Ceiling Over Me
I'm as privileged as can be. Born white, male and healthy to affluent, loving parents, I have always received every advantage this world offers: travel, the best teachers, food security, housing security, financial security, marital security. (A financial planner once said, "Of all that you have inherited, nothing is more valuable than your genes and the love you received." Sure. But I have received much more.)
I can look down at the glass floor and wonder: what does it feel like to face more gravity, more downward pull, than I do up here? What does it feel like to fear rape, sexual assault, and gender discrimination?
I know that I could be a victim of any of these. But I haven't been.
Quite to the contrary, I have been discriminated in favor of due to my expression of gender.
"No, Artie. You earned your place. You earn it every day."
I've heard that. Some friends acknowledge that I have received many advantages, but that I work hard, so I deserve what I have, and I deserve what I get to do.
Here's a story to the contrary.
An Example Of The Favoritism I Have Received
I went to a fancy liberal arts college. I was admitted into this four-year program with 1,274 classmates.
But, I have learned since then, if the Admissions Committee had ranked applications without knowing the declared gender of each applicant, the first 5,000 or so best applications would have been from women. This remains true -- according to higher education administrators I know -- throughout the country and across the decades.
That means — simplistically speaking here — that the Admissions Committee took the best 600+ applications and then paused. Seeking gender diversity, the Admissions Committee paused to dig deeper to find the applications from men. That's where they found my application — down deep.
I was admitted as part of a quota system, a defense of my inferior gender, a reverse Affirmative Action program.
Did I earn my way into college? Sure. But I also hopped onto a glass elevator on the way there.
That's just one example.
But this isn't a message of guilt from me. Nor is it a message of boasting about any sterling efforts on my part to right any societal and cultural wrongs. I haven't done much about inequality — except benefit mightily from it.
Where Does This Leave Me?
I have several missions, including:
- I am studying privilege and bias as they relate to the constructs of race and gender. (There are other topics. I started with race and gender.) Focused on first-person writing and theatre, I am widely sharing copies of Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit; We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (whose TED talk is included below and here); Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and the classic Black Boy by Richard Wright. I saw five of August Wilson's plays this year; I recommend Fences, now in the cinema. Last week, I spent a day visiting the men who are in the medium-security Marion Correctional Institution.
- I am identifying my bias and privilege and leveraging my privilege, investing it in the progressive evolution toward an egalitarian society. This teaching from a local social activist, Kimberly Brazwell, rings in my ears and heart (paraphrasing): "For subjugated people to rise, people with privilege must give up something of value." What am I willing to give up?
- I am seeking engagement where there is great talk, and even progress, with diversity — but fewer gains in inclusion. A college classmate, Sheryl Carter Negash taught me the difference between diversity and inclusion: "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance, being given access to the punch bowl."
Next week, I am speaking at Women In Digital. Here are details about the morning:
This post was sparked by my preparation for that event.
Please share a link to this post, "Breaking The Glass Floor," with others: tinyurl.com/BreakingFloor